ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays won their opening series of the season and now go straight into four games against a Toronto Blue Jays team that lost its first two games.
“We say it all the time: We’re kind of built on pitching, and the guys showed up today and pitched really well,” manager Kevin Cash said after a 4-1 win over the New York Yankees on Wednesday. “Everybody played their part.”
The Rays’ starting pitchers outplayed their Yankees counterparts in the series, throwing 18 2/3 innings to New York’s 11 1/3. The Rays’ bullpen was even sharper, allowing just one run in 8 1/3 innings over the three games, striking out six batters and walking one.
Wednesday’s winner, Alex Cobb, pitched well into the sixth before being stopped at 90 pitches, and Cash said he’ll be less tethered to regimented pitch counts with his starters — he let Chris Archer pitch his way through a seventh-inning jam rather than give way to a fresh bullpen Sunday.
Toronto comes to St. Petersburg coming off two losses at Baltimore despite solid pitching, falling 3-2 and 3-1. The Orioles managed to win Wednesday without a single at-bat with runners in scoring position, getting by on two home runs.
The heart of Toronto’s batting order has yet to get a hit, with 3-4-5 hitters Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales and Troy Tulowitzki a combined 0-for-26. Toronto went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position Wednesday, spoiling an eight-strikeout game from J.A. Happ.
Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman went 9-10 with a 4.37 ERA last year, and he’s 3-4 with a 4.84 ERA in seven starts against the Rays. He fared better in three games at Tropicana Field last season, going 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA.
Stroman is still just 25, a year older than Rays left-hander Blake Snell, who makes his season debut against the team he made his major-league debut against last season. Snell went 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA against New York, better than his overall rookie numbers (6-8, 3.54).
Toronto did have some spectacular defense in Baltimore, such as Kevin Pillar making a full-speed catch and throwing quickly to second for his first assist of the season.
“(That’s) what’s made me and that’s playing with an edge and being super-competitive,” Pillar told the Toronto Star. “To some people sometime, it’s playing a little bit reckless, but that’s just who I am. It’s understanding that I have to learn how to control those. There’s a time and place for them.”
The Rays and Jays play 10 games against each other in the first five weeks, then just two more before August, when they play seven in 10 days.